Friday, April 12, 2013
Medusa - Greek Mythology
Medusa, one of the three Gorgons, daughter of Phorcys and Ceto. She was the only one of the Gorgons who was subject to mortality. She is celebrated for her personal charms and the beauty of her locks. Neptune became enamoured of her, and obtained her favours in the temple of Minerva. This violation of the sanctity of the temple provoked Minerva, and she changed the beautiful locks of Medusa, which had inspired Neptune’s love to serpents. According to Apollodorus, Medusa and her sisters came into the world with snakes on their heads, instead of hair, with yellow wings and brazen hands. Their bodies were also covered with impenetrable scales, and their very looks had the power of killing or turning to stones. Perseus rendered his name immortal by his conquest of Medusa. He cut off her head, and the blood that dropped from the wound produced the innumerable serpents that infest Africa. The conqueror placed Medusa's head on the shield of Minerva, which he had used in his expedition. The head still retained the same petrifying power as before, as it was fatally known in the court of Cepheus. . . . Some suppose that the Gorgons were a nation of women, whom Perseus conquered.
Medusa's head, an apparently simple motif linked to the myth of Perseus, was freed through being severed and cut loose from its 'moorings' by the hero in the remote depths of the world. There is something paradoxical about the story since the monster was all the more indestructible because it had been killed. Indeed, the figure of Medusa is characterized by paradox, both in terms of the actual mythical stare, which turned men to stone, and in the interpretations that have been given to it. The fascination that she exerts arises from a combination of beauty and horror. Her head was used, in Ancient times, as an apotropaic mask -- a sort of talisman which both killed and redeemed.
As well as being the very symbol of ambiguity, Medusa's head is also one of the most archaic mythical figures, perhaps an echo of the demon Humbaba who was decapitated by Gilgamesh. Everything implies that it is a 'representation' of the most meaningful aspect of the sacred. Insofar as it is the role of literature to assume responsibility for the sacred, each era, when confronted with the mystery of the 'origins', has re-examined Medusa's head with its mesmerizing stare as something which conceals the secret of the sacred.
Medusa wasn't always hideous, but had once been so beautiful she charmed the sea god Poseidon who then ravaged her in the temple of Athena. Athena was furious that her temple had been desecrated in this way and so she punished the temptress by turning her hair into snakes and making her so horrible men were turned to stone by just looking at her.
The Gorgon face with snaky hair and tongue sticking out is supposed to be apotropaic -- deflecting evil. The History Channel's program on Medusa suggested the enlarged eyes and teeth with sticking-out-tongue reflect the reality of a human head shortly after death.
The head of Medusa is affixed to the center of Athena's shield. This is referred to as the aegis